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"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

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The unspoken undercurrent of 'Basterds'

From Nick Faust:

I saw "Inglourious Basterds" yesterday. I liked it a great deal - loved it, actually, but am in a quandary over what it's about. By that I don't mean to suggest the film is messy or unclear; I don't think that, at all. It's just that after the "Kill Bill" movies, and "Deathproof," we were expecting a particular kind of film, and what we got does not conform. In fact, the person I saw the film with was bored out of her mind. Afterwards she said, too much talking and not enough action! I certainly don't agree. But I do think that QT is often judged by what viewers think he should be doing, at the expense of what actually exists in his films. As to be expected, you review the movie QT made, and not what you expected or wanted it to be.

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There's something extraordinary in the way QT sets up his story, and, certainly, in the fantasy of history, tinged with annotated bits of truth and much movie lore, he depicts. These references, noted within an unusual narrative progression, make my mind spin; I haven't thought about a movie with such intensity for a long time.

Something else: there's an unspoken undercurrent throughout depicting the symbiotic relationship between the powerful and the powerless, and how each rigorously follows specific rules of social decorum. It's a theme that run throughout almost every scene, demonstrated with great care in the long dialogue sequences, punctuated with tears in close up, or violence. In the opening scene, violence follows tears.

The film's final moment, interestingly enough, does not completely fulfill the notion of revenge we've come to expect in just about every movie we see. The mark of Cain is cut, yes, but in a melodramatic sense, that is not enough. Not a criticism, merely an observation that leads me to believe there's more going on in this film than meets the immediate eye. QT leaves us up in the air. Yes, the movie theatre conflagration appears to be climactic, but in fact it's the crisis (in the playwriting sense of the word) Pitt's character faces that the film has been moving toward from the very beginning.

Driving home after the movie it occurred to me that the title does not merely name the Jewish Nazi killers; everyone in the film is in some way, from some point of view, a bastard; shameful, even in the face of heroic action and positive results. If my thinking has anything to do with the film's genuine intention, it would seen that within its exploitation facade, QT juggles mature notions of power and ethics with a Dostoyevskian ambiguity; like the powerful and the powerless I mention above, good and evil, separate sides of the same coin, share a coded, symbiotic relationship that shatters the very melodrama this film, and movies in general, constantly drum into our heads. Am thinking that QT's new movie, taken on it's own merits, is an extraordinary novel of a film.

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